Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Random Pictures

Ok, so this is me playing the guitar back at the end of May right before I went to my site permanantly. Mara, my region mate, and I were in Khenifra to talk with our delegue staff.

This is my region mate Mara and I at our delegue's house that same week at the end of May. Notice that we are both extremely clean. We were looking at these pictures this week and were lamenting the fact that those days are long behind us.

This is another picture of my region mate Mara. I don't know when this was taken.

This is me at souq staring at some spices back in May

This is Me, Mara, Ann, and Sean in Beni Millal back in June. The other guy in the photo is a Moroccan guy named Cal who now lives in the US and used to play for the Moroccan national soccer team. He invited us to a welcome home party he was having that night.


So this has been quite the exciting week. Not only has Ramadan begun, but I just completed my first “project”. Ok so let’s not get too excited, I haven’t built any wells or cured any strange diseases, basically no one is prepared to build a statue in my honor yet, but give it time. That really is the goal of Peace Corps you know…

So my region mate Mara and I spent a few hours at the Health Center in Ait Oumghar… don’t bother trying to look for it on a map, you won’t find it… teaching dental hygiene lessons: How to brush your teeth, if you can’t afford toothpaste or a toothbrush how to make them, why you need to brush your teeth, you know, dental hygiene. The basic idea is that on this particular day every week, the women from the surrounding area come in with their newborns in order to get vaccinations and since it takes forever they’re waiting around for hours with their babies. We basically have them cornered. So we ended up talking to somewhere around 45 women and their children. Many of them had confused looks on their faces most likely because there were two foreigners speaking their Berber dialect, but there were also a few who wrote down instructions or went and got friends so they could learn too.

There was this really cute girl named Amina who, although was a little shy at first quickly jumped out of her shell and became our little emissary to the rest of the people in the sbitar. She even left and brought friends of hers back on their way to school.

Now you have to realize that we were surrounded entirely by women, so I was a little shy. I’m used to interacting with all men here and the high level of estrogen was a tad intimidating, not only for me but for the women as well. When I talked with them one-on-one they mostly wanted to know if Mara and I were married. Mara, however, is a powerhouse when it comes to engaging people and drawing them in, and where I tend to be silent when I can’t create a grammatically correct sentence, she charges ahead with whatever word she can recall and brings her listeners into an active dialogue where they participate in forming the sentence. The unintended consequence (or maybe intended, I don’t know) is that because the people with whom she speaks end up helping her complete her sentences, they tend to understand and absorb the information far better than when confronted with my timidly formed “correct” sentences.

So I return tomorrow to my site and finally have a plan for work. So you have an idea of what I’ll be working on in the coming months, my nurse and I are working on a plan to get a medical waste incinerator for our sbitar so we don’t have used needles lying around all over the place. I’m also working on designing a system for our community to deal with trash as a community as opposed to just dumping everything in the river. I have In-Service Training (IST) in November and after that I can begin writing grants. I still haven’t started learning Arabic, which I thought I was going to begin last month, but my tutor up and left for a job, so I’m waiting until I get a little bit more comfortable with Tamazight.

I hope this blog entry finds you all well. Sadly I don’t have pictures of this event because both Mara and I felt awkward taking pictures during the lessons. I apologize for the disappointment, but we’ve been trying to keep our work low-tech and low-key.


Let me trouble you once more with yet another failed attempt to give you the slightest glimpse into my world here…

Ramadan has begun and I, along with several of my friends, have chosen to join our communities in fasting throughout the month. For those of you who don’t know how this works, nothing is allowed to pass your lips from sunrise to sunset (which translates to about 4 in the morning to 645 in the evening). It’s a tad more involved than that, but that’s the basic gist of it.

My schedule now looks something like this… I’ll start at the end of the day. Right around 5 my stomach starts to revolt and my lips are parched from a lack of liquids in the heat of Morocco. I’m dehydrated and a little weak. It’s not as bad as all that, but I’m definitely ready for nourishment. I’ve had invitations to break fast at others’ houses every night so far so I have not yet cooked the traditional meal yet. We gather in the salon awaiting that haunting call of “allahu akbar” signaling that we can finally nourish our deprived bodies. We then gorge ourselves on Harira (a Moroccan soup), Shebekia (a Moroccan pastry), dates, hard-boiled eggs, milk and Bousheyergh (I’m not sure of the transliteration on that one, but this is a sweet bread). Oh, and did I mention water? LOTS of water… or as we say here, BZZEF! The food is absolutely amazing, and although one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve spent the entire day dreaming about food… mostly enchiladas and maybe a steak… the Moroccan/Berber cuisine is rather delicious. Remember this happens around 645.

Now we sit around watching religious programming, the Moroccan TBN (or whichever one has the evangelists in the extremely gaudy, golden chairs). Muslim religious programming, however, is far classier than our Evangelical counterpart. I usually go out for a work, sit down with a book, chat with people who are now roaming the streets; basically we just pass the time before we eat again.

Around 1230 or 1 we have another meal... That’s 1230 at night just in case you forgot. This isn’t the race to see just how quickly you can fill your stomach that the breaking of the fast was, but enough to call it a meal. Then we sleep only to wake up around 330 for the sole purpose of getting dinner in before the sun begins to rise. After we’re done we go back to sleep and stay that way just a little bit longer than I normally would. Then I wake up.

The days are a bit lazier as no one wants to exert himself or herself as much as they normally would, although in my region mate Mara’s site it is the apple harvesting season and the workers have to work through the day in the fields without water or food. My day, fortunately does not necessarily involve extended periods of physical exertion otherwise I just might get as crazy as the taxi drivers…

… I guess I need to explain that a running joke here in Morocco is the taxi drivers during Ramadan. They have to drive all day long under the same conditions as the rest of us, and by the end of the day they’re going a little crazy and are a bit on edge. Fights break out occasionally over really little things. It’s actually quite funny to watch two men go to blows and have to be separated by a crowd because one of them leaned on the other’s car. Although I must say that I’ve never actually seen anyone land a good punch. It’s normally been this close-fisted slap that doesn’t actually reach its target. For those of you who know me, you know I am no fighter so I’m not exactly an expert observer, but I’m pretty sure that punch isn’t going to win any fight. I think I’ve reached the conclusion that the two combatants are counting on the crowd to separate them before it gets anywhere near serious…

… anyway, back to my life. I’ll do some work at the little health center in town, maybe hang out on the road with the guys there sitting in the shade…

… another quick diversion. I can tell what time it is simply by seeing where the group of men is loitering. They follow both the shade and whichever hanut/butcher/cigarette seller is open. So if I look out my roof to the road and although the shade is on the east side of the road meaning it’s morning, but people aren’t there, I know that the main hanut owner is about to make his run into town to get everyone’s vegetables, bread or whatever else people need. It’s somewhere between 9 and 930. If I wake up from a nap, walk out my front door and see that the shade is in the west and yet there are people on the east side, I know that it’s around 330 or 4 because people are about to head back to their houses to drink tea, eat a small snack and they want one last cigarette from the seller across the street. You get the idea…

… and then I’ll probably sit on my roof or in my living room and read trying desperately to stay out of the kitchen and away from the sight of food or water. Then around 530 I’ll head off to a friend’s house to prepare to break fast.

It’s interesting. I thought Ramadan would make life difficult, and granted I’m only 3 or so days in so this opinion could very well change over the course of the month,. What I am finding though, is that a life here that up to this point was very erratic now has some kind of strange and new rhythm to which I am learning rather quickly to dance. I work to keep my mind off of the hunger, and yet there is something every day to look forward to, to work towards. Reaching that final call to prayer always brings a sense of accomplishment.

Now some of you may be asking yourselves why I am choosing to fast. It’s an excellent question that has many answers. I had been going back and forth for literally months on this decision. Should I be intentionally different in order to force two different cultures to interact on their own terms or do what I am normally inclined to do and adapt as much as possible? I’m not Muslim so fasting for Ramadan isn’t a revealed and thereby required part of my religious life,, however adopting others’ traditions to one’s own has been a time honored tradition of the Church (that’s big C not little c) I’ve grown up in… December 25 for Christmas being a case in point, but I digress. There is of course the possibility of a cynical, work related answer that it makes integration easier,; a depressing, loner answer that it gives me an opportunity to eat at other peoples’ houses and not be alone in mine,; a career-oriented answer that says that it imposes a routine and enables more efficient work,; a religious answer that it allows me to focus my thoughts on higher things employing the time-honored tradition of fasting,; or a “twentysomething” answer that I’m doing it just for the sheer sake of doing it. All of them have a little bit of weight and are some part of the thought process. It most definitely does not simplify the religious question that is asked every day of me… “is tzallat?”… “do you pray?”. Once people find out I’m fasting, it just leads them back to the same question. So we return to the original question of why… and excellent question. I don’t have an answer for you; suffice it to say that I made the choice to fast. Independence forces one to make decisions even when you aren’t ready to make one or fully decided on a course of action. This was the choice in the “Create Your Own Story” that I picked and now I’m flipping through the book to some new, designated page to discover what’s going to happen to the protagonist next in this particular novel.

For those of you who are interested in what I’ve been reading lately, over the past week I’ve read “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azer Nafisi which was yet another soul-affirming recommendation from one of my friends who seems to be able to always bring me back from the edge of cynicism and remind me, as she so eloquently put it, that although this world groans, it also hopes. I’m almost done re-reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which always re-kindles the sometimes-dying flames of my spiritual journey. I’m also reading “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov which is not exactly the most uplifting book I’ve ever read… more along the lines of the most disturbing. It is beautifully written though. I’m also reading an economics textbook, but that’s because I’m a bit of a dork. I’ve just borrowed “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran and “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer and am excited about diving into their pages. Oh, and occasionally I pick up “Arabian Nights” and read a story or two. I’ve been reading politics and history incessantly for a couple of months now so I’m on a little bit of a fiction kick right now.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Hair is Gone

So the ponytail finally came off... and there was much mourning in the land. One of the volunteers I'm here with commented that it changes my personality so much because they've only known me with it. That strikes me as rather hilarious seeming as I've only had the ponytail for about, I don't know, 5/46 of my life. Pretty exact fraction you say? Yes it is.

Just in case you didn't know, the hair will be donated to "Locks of Love"

So here is the process...

This is how I usually go around wearing my hair... in a bun. Although, I try not to pull the karate kid move on too many unsuspecting moroccans

This is of course my tiger face. We all need these. So that's about how long my hair got.

And this is just a wonderfully telling look. Please forgive the monstrosity that is the soul patch. I came into that weekend with a full beard and a body tat hadn't showered in a week so I wanted to get cleaned up and shave and that's the mood I was in. It will be gone soon.

Here is the first cut... and the horror on my face. We bought the scissors that day at market and they were extremely dull. Cuttin anything took us forever.

Here is one of the two ponytails we cut off. Once again... dull scissors. We had to do it in waves.

This is my trusty region mate, Mara, who did the honors of cutting my hair. She's awesome, and if she reads this... thanks again.

I know that this isn't the greatest picture of my new haircut, but it's the best I could do right now... the other's we took are just embarassing. I look like my youngest brother and now that he's taller than me, I look like I'm the youngest. There will be more pictures of me and you'll get better looks at the hair, although let's be honest... it's really not that important.